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Saturday, April 01, 2017

Book Review: The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980) by Bruce Chatwin

Cobra Verde poster.jpg
The Viceroy of Ouidah was made into a film called Cobra Verde by German auteur Werner Herzog

Book Review:
The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980)
by Bruce Chatwin

   I believe that the genre of colonial fiction that Joseph Conrad invented was an important influence on the development of dystopian literature.  Right from the beginning, Conrad was an important influence on George Orwell, and he was certainly know to Aldous Huxley.   But more than that, the tone of the "white man in Africa" resembles the typical narrator in a dystopian novel, a sane man or woman (or robot for that matter) in an insane world.   Personally, I'm interested in depictions of the insane dystopias of colonialism.   And if you get right down to it, there are few darker than the odd European controlled areas of Africa, outside those controlled by major powers of England and France.
   Let's see, you've got the Herrero massacres of German Southwest Africa, as discussed by Thomas Pynchon both in V and Gravity's Rainbow.  There is the famous Conradian Heart of Darkness in the  Belgian Congo.  I understand why a critic might ask why read another narrative along those lines, this one covering the Portugese/Brazillian slave coast off the Kingdom of Dahomey in the 18th and 19th century, but I would say that this is a separate literary genre, alongside narrative written by Africans themselves.

  Colonial literature isn't simply about the historic circumstances depicted in a particular narrative, it is also a metaphor for the relationship that we have with the forces of consumer capitalism and the entertainment industrial complex in our own lives- they attempt to colonize our consciousness.   Thus, the narrative of colonialism also included the narrative of resistance to colonialism.

  I understand that The Viceroy of Ouidah has an episodic and feverish quality, and it switches narrative viewpoints between generations of characters

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